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Law Enforcement Surveillance Cameras For The Post-9/11 World: 5 Considerations

Mar 20, 2008
Whether events of September 11th, 2001 portend permanent or temporary changes in our nation, or around the world, local law enforcement organizations around the country know that a seismic event of some magnitude occurred which will affect the way we do things for years to come. Certainly the psyche of this and many other nations were impacted. Elections were influenced, relations between nations were altered, and normal international discourse was dramatically changed - maybe permanently.

While so much changed in the way we approached our daily lives, the most fundamental change may have taken place in the realm of security. "Business as usual" could no longer be tolerated at the local law enforcement level as a very real and visceral reality hit home - that some of the world's most capable and redoubtable military powers could find themselves vulnerable to far less sophisticated, asymmetric threats which could kill thousands without firing a single round. Asymmetric warfare migrated from an intellectual exercise that planners in the Pentagon used to channel the directions of the Revolution in Military Affairs to one of practical consequence that seemed to throw all of the rules out the window.

When those two passenger jets slammed into the Twin Towers on 9/11 they had a galvanizing affect on how we conduct our day-to-day activities and challenged conventional wisdom about how we deal with potential threats. Probably nothing in our lives changed more visibly than the explosion in surveillance capabilities and the willingness, albeit with some degree of objection, to accept greater intrusiveness by governments as they sought to prevent even more cataclysmic events. Securing the general population became the mantra of governments and their leaders, and surveillance systems became a key means to achieve that security.

Yet the need to fill the apparent gap in government as well as private security architectures has not in all cases been met by a concomitant appropriate response from the commercial arena. Many companies rushed to fill the void without the commensurate experience needed to provide the right customer solutions. Company size, financial deep pockets, and an army of engineers by themselves mean little without a deep bench of experienced technocrats who have put years in the trenches of the surveillance industry and have lived the complex challenges this industry poses.

Towards that end, there are some necessary considerations when looking to acquire a surveillance system. These include, but are not limited to, the following:

1. Surveillance systems are not simply cameras on a pole:

Potential users such as local law enforcement agencies need to understand the broader applications and uses of all of the components in an integrated, "total systems" approach. Certainly simple, and cost effective, wired CCTV solutions are a piece of the total solution. However, by themselves, they deprive a user of a complete solution - a fact that can go unnoticed until it is too late and a situation arises whereby more is needed.

2. Surveillance systems should be holistic in design and defined by the user's specific needs and desired objectives:

There are a myriad of factors that influence what a potential user will require in a surveillance system. What is the objective or threat? Is it counter-drug, counter-terrorism, illegal immigration, criminal activity reduction, homicide reduction, etc? Can the requirement be met solely by copper or fiber optic solutions? Is there a wireless component? Is the solution a mix of overt and covert platforms? How can a new solution be coupled with the existing legacy system in place potentially saving the customer a lot? Is there an aerial component to the requirement? Are there low light camera needs? Is there a mobile requirement, a rapid deploy need? Is full frame rate video required? The answers to these questions will have a dramatic effect on what is needed, determine the priority of needed functionality, and temper how and when to acquire various components of the desired system. Moreover answering these questions ensures the practical and measured acquisition of a system commensurate with the fiscal resources available to the user.

3. Surveillance systems should be scalable: capable of starting small, able to grow in adaptable stages, and anchored to easy-to-use and robust video management software:

The term "system" should not be intimidating, for it can be something as little as a basic video sensor, a transmitter, a receiver, a couple of antennas, and a small box to view the video, control the sensor, and record the video. The components should be modularized in such a way that the ability to grow the system is seamless and rapidly expansible. Most importantly, the system should be manageable via software that is flexible, agnostic (i.e., is capable of integrating with a host of different sensors and video management components regardless of the brand name of each component), and able to be worked by the user out of the starting gate.

4. Surveillance systems are tough stuff:

It is not the size of a company that matters - it is experience! It's not a company's deep pockets that count, but rather its exhibited skills in what is an incredibly complex niche industry. Knowing how to integrate analogue with digital solutions, how to transmit large volumes of streaming video through different "pipes" for long distances, how to meld wired and wireless components, and do so in a reasonable time are not skills resident in a lot of companies even if they do advertise that is what they do. So "buyer beware!"

5. Surveillance systems are not cheap and they need care:

Sometimes, the hardest thing is to convince a user that they must protect their investment with an extended service agreement. But doing so is not only smart - it is essential. Systems should be made so they can be operated easily. But they are a product of advanced electronics, complex sensors, and complicated software and need a sustained service program to maintain one's investment. This one element is the most overlooked yet most necessary element in any system.

Surveillance systems are here to stay. They are imbedded in much of the fabric of our every day life. You have seen vestiges of such systems in London, heard about efforts to man the U.S. border with them (although with mixed results to date), have seen them used as a means to bring down organized crime, and watched their proliferation throughout many of the major cities in the United States. There has been a lot of trial and error . . . a lot of successes and failures. But one conclusion is inescapable - - they are here to stay and will grow in size and scope and, as they do, so too will the number of providers who say they can produce the right solution. The five considerations mentioned above may help in providing the right solution for a city, company, or agency seeking to procure a system to meet its surveillance needs.
About the Author
Contact NS Microwave today to find out how they can set up and manage customized surveillance solutions for your agency. Past deployments include the site of Super Bowl LXII, mission-critical support in Iraq, and numerous local, state and federal law enforcement agencies: www.nsmicrowave.com
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